Somewhere around the time of 1994’s Vitalogy, Pearl Jam settled into their ‘groove’. From then on, the rabble-rousing anthems were a little less immediate, and their albums’ scope stretched to include their more experimental tendencies. That is, up till 2006’s self-titled album. From here on, they appear to have made a conscious effort to stop layering ‘weird shit’ over their songs and get back to more straight-ahead, even at times catchy, rock.
Lightning Bolt is only their second album in the intervening seven years, and it showcases what Pearl Jam have become: an unashamed classic rock band. Opening track Getaway exemplifies this approach, like ‘Do The Evolution’ but older and richer. Mind Your Manners was the first single and is fairly atypical, a short, sharp punky shock lasting just over two and a half minutes. There are rockers aplenty here such as the title track and the rockabilly Let The Records Play.
At the other end of the spectrum is Sirens, a massive, commercial-sounding rock ballad. It’s the type of thing they probably would have been too cautious to put on an album ten or fifteen years ago. But this ‘comfortable in their own skin’ incarnation of Pearl Jam seems to have finally stop worrying about ‘cred’ and can now embrace a song like this, and it really suits them.
Elsewhere, Swallowed Whole takes their Townshend obsession to new levels (in a good way), the poppy strum of Sleeping By Myself is a decent experiment that doesn’t quite work, while string-and-piano finale Future Days is one of the softest, most tender songs they have ever done. The mid-paced plodders (Infallible, Pendulum) and moody ballads (Yellow Moon) have really fine melodies and some great old-school guitar solos but it all feels rather… immediate? Not sure if this album will reveal hidden depths in the weeks and months to come.
Eddie Vedder’s voice and persona has always been the key to this band. I’ve always felt he was like an embarrassing mate, a little bit cringey but sincere to his core. There’s something to be said for that sort of old-fashioned appeal.
2. Mind Your Manners
3. My Father’s Son
5. Lighting Bolt
8, Swallowed Whole
9. Let The Records Play
10. Sleeping By Myself
11. Yellow Moon
12. Future Days